Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Am I A Racist?

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Editor’s Note:  I wrote this article back in May of 2019 in response to reading Jemar Tisby’s book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism”. We thought now would be a good time to publish it.  
I recently read Jemar Tisby’s thought-provoking book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. That was a difficult book to read, and it should be, as it showed the American church’s active and passive involvement in racism. As I was reading the book, a thought came to me – Am I a racist?
Growing up I would occasionally hear racist words at home. I know my parents had experienced difficult situations with black students at school in Chicago. I remember my mother telling me of being pushed down the stairs by black students, and that experience had stuck with her. I can remember as a child being in the car as we drove through black neighborhoods to go to a relative’s house in Chicago and my mother instructing us to make sure the car doors were locked. There was certainly fear involved.
As I went through grade school, junior high school and most of high school, I rarely interacted with black students as there were not many who attended our schools. But during my senior year, Jeff transferred to our school and was a member of our school’s basketball team. Jeff was cool. The guys wanted to be around him.  Although we never voiced it, we wanted to dress like him, talk like him and even walk like him. I remember going to a mall in the area with Jeff and others to pick out clothes similar to his. Rather than being racist towards Jeff, we embraced him. On the basketball court, we didn’t see color.
Our high school coach encouraged us to play basketball year-round, and to play against college students who were better than us. He told us that is how we would improve, and he was right. As we played on the basketball courts of the local university, many of those students we played against were black. To me and my friends, these players were just like us, not black or white.
A significant change regarding race happened in our community when Illinois State University hired Will Robinson as the first black Division I head coach. Robinson then began bringing in many talented high school players to the school, several of them black. I remember hearing comments about the number of black players on the team, but by that time in our nation’s history, the racist comments were more said under their breath. Tisby writes that racism never fully goes away; it just adapts to changing times and contexts.
When I met Tammy, who would become my wife, I remember noticing some prejudice in her.  We talked about how racism and Christianity are not compatible, which was a new realization for her.  She would now quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.”
Over the years, I have had a few close black friends. One of my faults is that too often when I’m around a black person I find myself talking about black sports figures like Tiger Woods, or music artists like Lecrae. I don’t know why I do this, it’s probably just trying to make a connection, but I need to stop doing it.
So, am I a racist? I hope not. But Tisby tells us that the refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. I know that I haven’t done enough to promote racial justice, nor have I always done everything I could to address inappropriate racist comments.
One last thing. Remember Jeff, the black basketball player that became part of our team my senior year in high school? The last year of my career at a Fortune 50 organization I worked with his wife and have run into him a few times in the community.   Small world.
I highly recommend Tisby’s book. It is sobering and heart-breaking, and would be a good book for Christians to read and discuss, especially church leaders. Here is a link to my review of the book.   You can also watch it for free on Amazon Prime Video.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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